Why I'm Not Interested in Owning an  Watch

I’ve been thinking about this at least since it was first announced[1], but the capabilities of the Apple Watch as of right now do not present a good use-model or value proposition. It’s a more interesting product than the alternatives like Pebble, because of better integration with iOS which will give it more capabilities than any third-party device will ever have. The design is beautiful, and the aspirational engineer in me drools over the details of how Apple makes the watch. But that’s not enough to make me want to actually buy one.

I wear a watch for two reasons:

  1. I want a consistently reliable alternative to my phone for telling the time.
  2. (Distant second) I want a fashion accessory.

A smart-watch would add this benefit:

  1. A more accessible and portable alternative to my phone, particularly when in motion.

The Apple Watch will, at least for now, work only as adjunct to an iPhone. That means it’s not as useful as a pure wearable in most situations since it negates the portability. If I have to carry my iPhone to use the Watch, I’d rather just carry the iPhone. The lack of GPS and need for tethering basically eliminates the main use I’d have for it — as a device for tracking workouts or runs.

The interactions do not generally look useful to me. I do more production than reception on my phone. I have almost all notifications turned off, and only use messaging or email occasionally since I often can’t respond during work hours unless on an explicit break. I had to change my notification settings for messages and email because even vibration-only is noticeable in some situations at work.

All models of the Apple Watch are aesthetically pleasing, which makes them very desirable objects, but the fashion aspect and object-lust is not enough to make its appeal irresistible. I have two nice, moderately expensive watches. Only one — the old dumb mechanical watch — actually gets worn because it’s rock-solid reliable. The other looks good, but proved to be useless as a timepiece.

I’ve found that the most important aspect of a watch is reliability. I could easily do without one, and in fact didn’t wear a watch at all for a few years after I started carrying a cell phone regularly. I started wearing one again after my wife insisted on buying a watch as a wedding present. (For the record, I was a cheap bastard, so I told her not to spend too much on me, otherwise she probably would have bought a lower-end Rolex or something similar.)

The user-hostile design of that Citizen watch quickly made me very leery of using it at all. If you’re going to break a user interaction model, you’d damn well better do it for a good reason. They didn’t have one.

In addition to being rendered useless when I went overseas, within the next 2 years (right after the warranty expired, in fact) it had stopped working reliably at all. It would sometimes completely stop, as if it had run out of power, even after I left it in a place with direct access to sunlight for a whole day to charge. I got it serviced, which mostly fixed that problem, but soon after it started to reset itself to the wrong time even after I manually reset it using the ridiculously complicated procedure Citizen’s engineers implemented. I got it serviced again, but the problem randomly re-occurred. I never wear it anymore because it was not just unreliable, it was unpredictably unreliable.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve had an Omega[2] that I also got as a gift. I have had only routine service performed on it twice. It has an all-mechanical self-winding movement. It’s not ridiculously accurate — it will drift several seconds[3] over a week or so — and you have to wear it for at least a few hours every day to keep it running without manual winding, but it’s a workhorse. If it doesn’t work, it’s inevitably because I have not worn it recently and the power reserve has run out. It has run consistently for years without stopping. With some care, it will probably be keeping reasonably accurate time for one of my grandkids, and will probably still be worth as much as a comparable contemporary watch.

I love tech stuff. I am nearly as susceptible as other geeks to the sparkly lure of new shiny gadgets. I lust after the sheer technical meticulousness of the construction of it. But I don’t think I’ll be buying an Apple Watch … at least, not yet. Maybe when it becomes more of a stand-alone device, or auto-syncs with an iPhone when it gets back within tethering range. Or, if over the next few months after it comes out I see uses that I hadn’t imagined that are compelling enough, then maybe I’ll consider buying one.

For right now, it seems to be an interesting beautiful toy that I kind of want, but can’t really justify buying. (If I could justify it, I’d get the 42mm version of this bad-boy, though).

  1. Or a couple of years farther back if you count from when the iPod Nano straps came out and the success of the original Pebble project pushed tech-watches back into the forefront of public consciousness, including my own.  ↩

  2. A Seamaster model 2532.80.00, which probably retailed for half of what that model goes for in near-mint condition now. Mine is nowhere near mint; it would probably be categorized as “well-abused”.  ↩

  3. According to an watch-enthusiast site, Omega Seamaster automatic models have an accuracy of –4 to +6 seconds per day  ↩